When we talk about building a healthier, happier lifestyle, that often entails creating healthy boundaries for things that drain us or have a negative effect on us. Boundaries are necessary for maintaining balance in our lives. Learning how to create healthy boundaries is a vital step in self-care.
What are boundaries and why are they important?
Have you ever had a relationship where you felt like you were always giving but getting nothing in return? Do you feel like people take advantage of you? If so, it’s time to start thinking about boundaries.
Boundaries are lines we draw for self-protection. It’s a way to keep things away from us that we don’t have the time or energy for. Boundaries set limits on what we are willing to do.
Creating boundaries doesn’t mean that you cut people totally out of your life. It doesn’t mean that you become a cruel, heartless bitch. It’s about teaching others what your limits are and communicating to them that the limits need to be respected.
Boundaries give you control of your life. When you spend time with people you drain your energy and make you feel bad, you might think there’s nothing you can do about it. After all, you can’t control other people. Boundaries, however, give you some of that control back.
When you create healthy boundaries and effectively communicate to others what those boundaries are, you will be less stressed and overwhelmed. Boundaries also help us maintain healthier relationships.
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Creating healthy boundaries
Knowing you need to create boundaries and actually doing it are two different things. Establishing healthy boundaries is hard. It requires communication and assertiveness, which some people struggle with. Here are 5 tips to help:
1. Needs assessment
Before you can decide what boundaries you need to create, you have to be clear on what your needs are. What do you need in order to feel good? What are deal-breakers? What things are non-negotiable? You have to consider what is important and what isn’t. Once you have these established for yourself, it becomes easier to know when to stand up for yourself and when to negotiate.
2. Clear communication
Once you realize your needs and limits, you need to communicate them to your loved ones. People in your life are not mind readers. They will continue to behave the way they always have unless you are clear as to why that is no longer acceptable.
How you share this information will depend on the person and the situation. No matter what, it needs to be an explicit conversation. Choose a time when the matters can be addressed and talked through. Don’t be afraid to start small by discussing a small-stakes change. It will help build your confidence for tackling bigger issues.
Assertiveness doesn’t mean be aggressive or start a fight. What it does mean is stand your ground. You need to be clear and direct in your expectations and explanations of your limits and boundaries. Don’t apologize for your needs or make excuses. Simply say no and move on. This is super hard if you normally avoid conflict. But it does get easier the more you do it.
4. Stand firm
People will test your boundaries. We’ve all be doing it since we were toddlers. Mom says no, so we push and push until we hit the hard limit and get in trouble. The people in your life are used to you behaving a certain way. When you make changes, it will take time for them to get on board, so they will push back possibly without even realizing they’re doing it.
Others will push simply because they don’t like the change. They might try to make you feel bad for setting the boundary. Stand firm. You have a right to set boundaries to protect yourself and your well-being. If they can’t respect it, that’s their problem.
That’s it, just no. No is a full sentence on its own. For many women, this is hard to do. Many of us are people pleasers so telling someone no stirs up anxiety. We worry about what others will think of us and we will do things even if it’s not in our best interest.
Remember that creating healthy boundaries is your right. You need to do what is healthy and right for you. You do not owe anyone an explanation. Just say no.
If you struggle with telling people no, practice with some low stakes or through role playing. Get used to telling someone no until you can handle the anxiety or stress that might get triggered at the thought.
Protecting your boundaries
Once you’ve established your boundaries, you need to protect and enforce them. Sometimes, that will mean you have to walk away from a person or situation that is infringing on your boundary. If you take your boundaries seriously, they will too.
Boundaries aren’t permanent
Nothing is set in stone and life changes. You don’t have to keep a boundary once you create it if it no longer matters or works for you. You can change your mind. Remember, the purpose of creating healthy boundaries is to maintain your well-being. If a boundary no longer makes sense, change it or get rid of it.
Surviving the process
Like everything I talk about here, setting boundaries is a process. You have to retrain those around you to respect the boundaries and limits you have created. It will take time and effort. Remember these tips:
No explanations are required – You do not need to justify or explain the boundaries you set. You are doing what you need to do for yourself. If you start justifying, it opens the door for them to argue or negotiate, and you don’t need that.
Be assertive – It’s necessary to be firm. Just like when you are teaching your toddler not to run in the street, you need to be firm with those around you so they know you’re not playing. You’re taking these boundaries seriously and they need to, too.
Practice – This process is hard but it gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the more effective you will become.
You cannot control others – When others react poorly to the boundaries you set, it might feel like it’s your fault like you’ve done something mean to them. As cold as it might seem, it’s not your problem. You need to put yourself first and do what’s best for you.
Creating healthy boundaries can have a huge positive impact on your life. Once you put limits on the things and people who drain you, your mental and emotional health will improve. When you start seeing and feeling the benefits of those boundaries, setting them and maintaining them will become easier.